Children are more vulnerable to worm infections than adults. This common childhood ailment is easily treated and prevented
Worms tend to infect children more than adults.
Parasitic worms can invade and thrive in the intestines of the human body, growing in number through recurring infections. Such worm infections can have damaging long-term effects on a child’s health.
Hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, pinworms and tapeworms are the different types of intestinal worms found in children.
Symptoms of worm infections
The severity of a worm infection will depend on just how many worms are present in the intestine. The more worms, the more ill your child will feel. Fewer worms and you may hardly notice it.
The most common symptoms of more serious infections include: loss of appetite, swollen and painful abdomen, coughing, fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, paleness, tiredness, disturbed sleep, itchy anus, mucus or blood in stool, skin rash, swelling around the eyes and generally feeling unwell.
How they spread
Contact with soil that has been contaminated with the faeces of an infected person is a sure way of spreading infection.
- Pinworm or threadworm infections are spread when a child comes into contact with an already infected child. Infection spreads by unknowingly swallowing worm eggs that hatch in the intestine. They may also be spread because of poor hygiene. Pinworms cause intense itching of your child’s anus. You may be able to see the worms in your child’s stool or on close examination of his bottom. They look like tiny cotton threads.
- Roundworm eggs hatch into larvae that break through the walls of the intestine to enter blood and lymph vessels, eventually ending up in the lungs. Here they grow and develop, before travelling to the throat to be swallowed once again and back into the intestine where they eventually mature and start laying eggs. It’s possible for these worm eggs to be ingested by eating contaminated food.
- Hookworm eggs passed out through the faeces of an infected person hatch into larvae and begin to live on the surface of soil. If given the chance, the larvae penetrate the skin of bare feet to enter the body. The larvae are carried in the bloodstream to the lungs. As they develop, they move up the throat to be swallowed down to the intestine. The now mature hookworms attach to the lining of the intestine with sharp teeth to begin producing eggs.
- Whipworm eggs hatch into larvae, growing and developing in the small intestine before moving onto other parts of the intestine. They end up in the cecum part of the intestine where as matured adults they then start producing eggs that are then passed out with faeces. They are a type of roundworm that look like a “whip”. Whipworm eggs can be ingested while eating contaminated food.
- Tapeworms are ribbon-like worms that can be picked up by swallowing contaminated water. Eating undercooked meat of an infected animal like a cow or pig can also cause infection. Ingested tapeworm eggs can embed themselves in muscle tissue and organs like the eye or brain causing cysts to form.
A doctor can advise you on an appropriate and effective anti-parasitic medication to kill off the worms. To prevent reinfection, this treatment should be repeated once a year or every six months depending on the severity of the problem. Pets should also be treated.
You should also:
- Wash fruits and veggies in clean water.
- Wear shoes when outdoors.
- Teach your child to wash her hands after going to the toilet, playing with soil in the garden or with a pet and before eating.
- Apply petroleum jelly to the rectum to relieve itching in the case of pinworms. Wash your hands often and scrub under the fingernails. Wash all bedding and clothing in hot water.
- Don’t eat undercooked meat.